Three Lessons I Learned in the Navy

Today is Veteran’s Day.  At school this week, the kids were asked to bring in some photos and information on a veteran.  They picked me.  I believe proximity and availability of photos strongly influenced their decision.

I don’t think about my time in the Navy a lot, but their curiosity caused a little reflection.  Twenty years ago seems so far away, and such a different time that even looking at the photos is a strange experience for me.  I do get a kick out of how my daughters’ eyes light up when they see pictures of me doing crazy things.

“Is that really you jumping out of that helicopter Daddy?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

This went on for quite sometime.

As I reflected on that time, there were three lessons that I learned that are worth sharing.

Lesson 1:  The World is a Big Place

I grew up in New Hampshire in a small town and spent most of my childhood here. Spending more than half of my four years out at sea I witnessed the enormity of this planet.  When you steam across the ocean for days and there is no land in sight it puts things into perspective.

Seeing the Pyramids, the Colosseum, the Holy Land combined with visits to most of the European countries that border the Mediterranean Sea provided additional reinforcement.  A friend of mine once said that every place you go, every person you meet changes you in a small way.  Standing at the base of pyramid blocks that are larger than your car has a way of reminding you how large this world really is.

Lesson 2:  Education is Important

The funny thing is, I don’t think the Navy intended to teach this lesson…but they did.  I enlisted right out of high school, just a few days after graduation.  After training you are assigned to a ship, and one thing you notice right away is that you are wearing blue (kinda goofy) uniforms that consist of bell-bottom jeans and white hats.  Officers (those with an education) are in khaki uniforms that are almost “business casual” in appearance.

Early on in your ship-board experience all enlisted people have to spend three months working in the galley.  So essentially you get to experience first hand the behind the scenes way you feed 360 people everyday, four times per day, with the amazing honor of cleaning the dishes, pots and pans for 16 to 18 hours per day.

If you are good, you get picked for more honorable assignments.  After a week, I got to work in the officer’s galley.  Not only were their meals better, they ate in a dining room with cloth napkins and real silverware.  They also lived in staterooms (about the size of my current walk in closet) and not in summer camp like beds stacked three high.

It didn’t take a genius (thankfully) to learn this valuable lesson: if you have an education, the odds are you will live in a better place, wear better clothes, and eat better food.

Despite graduating in the top 10 percent of the bottom 1/4th of my high school class, I headed right to college after my four years of service and it was great.

Lesson 3:  Don’t Be So Afraid

Not being afraid seems harder to keep putting into practice, especially as the years pass. While looking at some of the photos, I realized that fear was not a large part of what drove me.  Yes, I was much younger, but the mission or the work seemed important enough to allow me to put that fear aside.

I used to jump out of helicopters…really.  Now I get nervous when standing on a ladder that is a few stories in the air.  What happened?  Age and time I guess, but for other less risky activities there are times that fear appears bent on halting my pursuits.  There are days that even this blog becomes fear’s next target.

The motto of rescue swimmers is this:

So Others May Live

That mission was enough to move me beyond fear and leap out of a perfectly good helicopter.  Today I encourage you to find your motto, your mission, your purpose, and remember that when the fear creeps in to try to stop you.  Remembering the larger purpose and reasons why will help you move past fear and take that first step.  (The rest was easy, gravity did all of the actual work.)  

And to the Navy, thanks for the lessons.